Project Alba - Environment and safe vegetables
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Here, we’re zooming on the type of farming practices we promote to our partnering farmers.

Let’s set the record straight, we are not yet at the level of organic agriculture. That being said we use a range of techniques that improves soil fertility, protects the environment and the consumer’s health, and allows to save water.

In terms of soil fertility, growing always the same crop, monoculture is a known issue : the crop consumes always the same soil nutrients and organic matter when it grows and these elements are not added back to the land after harvest.

To prevent this situation, we use crop rotations with crops from families with different needs and different effects on the soil. That’s also why we encourage farmers to add organic matter and use rice straw mulching to improve soil fertility. Our fertilizer programs are also tailored to plants changing needs across time. With all that work we’ve actually seen the soil fertility of our farmers improve over time.

In terms of pest control, crop rotation also helps and we use a range of organic solutions to prevent most damage from happening. We use live barriers ( corn, sugarcane or sorghum around the field ) to ensure incoming insects would literally clean their mouth of viruses and parasites on the barrier before reaching the field. We also use certain fungi and bacteria that grow together with the plants and protect them from key pests.

On the right mulching and drip system allow water savings as water and nutrients are directly brought to the growing plants. In the back, the live barrier protects the plants from coming insects.

We are not organic in two ways. First, we use soluble fertilizer as it makes farmers life much easier and its applications dosage are precisely adapted to the crop growth stage. Because we don’t have access to organic soluble fertilizers in Cambodia yet, we are using synthetic ones.

Second, and more importantly, if a crop gets attacked by insects or illnesses beyond a certain stage, or if the period is extreme in terms of pest pressure ( think fungal pressure in rainy season ), we would encourage farmers to use chemical protection.

When it comes to farming in south-east Asia and east Asia, practices have gone mad. Vietnamese and Chinese farmers are known to use indecent amount of fertilizers and pesticides to get short term results.

For that matter, a few labels have been put in place, among which organic ones and also what’s called “Good Agricultural Practices” standards or “ safe vegetables ” in Vietnam, “chemical free vegetables” in Cambodia.

These guidelines ensure farmers use an adequate amount of product and also that they don’t use chemical products 7 to 14 days before harvest. That way when the produce is sold, the chemicals have been degraded since a long time. A whole range of chemicals are also forbidden.

On the market side, this does not change much. A few clients would provide a premium for such practices but Cambodia is a market a bit young for this. Consumers are actually very regarding with the food they consume and look forward for it to be healthy; but at the wholesaler level, the certification standards cannot yet allow for safe vegetables or organic vegetables to be differentiated.

Nonetheless, we and, more importantly, farmers are proud to ensure healthy products get delivered to consumers. We’re also playing a long game with farmers fields, ensuring their resources, such as soil, improve over time.

Guillaume Virag, 06th June 2016